David Simon, you crazy romantic, what a tender send-off. And David Plotz, you lucky man, so confident in the notion that our nation’s finest news organizations would never harbor any suspected bad guys. They do, though—right up until they don’t, just like governments and churches and every other business on earth. Reporters at USA Today had been warning the honchos there about Jack Kelley for years, yet their complaints were written off as jealous backbiting even as he filed wild tales like the one in which multiple heads rolled down the street in Jerusalem with eyes blinking—a story that helped make him a Pulitzer finalist. So everything Gus said in this last episode rang true to me. And in what universe do all the wrongdoers ever get caught? If the last seven years have proved anything, it’s surely that the bigger the lie, the more they really do believe.
Yet on the screen, sometimes it’s the stuff that actually happened that’s the least convincing. My husband, for instance, thought that “bigger the lie” scene in the first episode, where Bunk fools a first-time suspect into believing in “guilt you can Xerox,” was the only false note all season. I argued that, no, back in my cop-shop days, police laughed all the time about fun with polygraphs—and as it turns out, the scene is taken straight out of Simon’s book Homicide. If there was one thing I personally never heard of, it was anybody being forgiven, ever, after talking to internal affairs. Still, it was satisfying—and even emotionally necessary, in a way—to see McNulty and Lester decline to hold a grudge against Kima.
In the finale, every character reaches his limit and makes his decision: Cedric says no more games with crime stats and leaves the department. Slim Charles cannot hear one more word out of Cheese and blows his head off. Marlo has a panic attack at a fancy cocktail party and is relieved to get back out on the corner where he can bleed in peace. And Gus turns in the newsroom criminal, knowing full well it’s Mr. Pants-on-Fire who’ll be believed. (True, St. Gus, as you guys call him, is as incorruptible as, oh, Oliver Twist. But the last time I had a moral crush on a TV character who seemed too heroic to be true, it was Matt Santos, and he turns out to have been modeled on Obama—so, hey, espero que si, se puede!)
All the characters who make the right call suffer for it but are OK with the consequences—Cedric and Rhonda, Gus and Alma, even Jimmy and Lester, who choose to retire rather than get paid to do some nonjob. Those who make the wrong choice, on the other hand, are rewarded—or, if you prefer, punished with ill-gotten success: The paper takes home the prize but misses the story. Though Scott Templeton will never be caught now, he’s going to find the newsroom lonelier than he ever thought possible.
From the opening scene of Carcetti waving his hands around in an incoherent lather after learning there is no serial killer to the sweet parting shots of Baltimore, this finale was so lovingly put together that I actually burst into tears at the sight of David sitting in the newsroom chewing on his pen. And how could you not love his sentimental “-30-” to “the life of kings“?